The struggle for Power in Laos

Laos is at the present time the bone of contention between the United States and the Russians. President Kennedy has been shown on British T.V. threatening to use the might of the American armed forces to protect the democratic rights of Laos. He appears so young, forthright and sincere, but perhaps, after all, it would be just as well if we were to critically examine his claims that the U.S. stands for democracy in Laos whilst the Russian Government is attempting to undermine and destroy its work by Communism.

Civil war has been going on in the country since the middle nineteen fifties but has only become world news since Kennedy threatened to enter the affray openly with U.S. troops. Until now the U.S. has encouraged the Royalist faction but they have recently been opposed by another faction—Pathet Lao.

What sort of people are these Laotians, who do not appear unanimous in appreciating the benefits of democracy?

Laos is part of an ancient civilisation overrun by the French at the time of the general European scramble for colonies and incorporated into their former colony of Indo-China. The people are simple and courteous—and deeply religious. But as so often happens when a whole community of people are caught in its grip, religion’s ministers and precepts develop great influence. The population becomes more pious as their material poverty increases and they seek the excuse of dogma, creed or belief to explain their intellectual poverty. All totalitarian regimes are destructive of the things of the spirit of man, but of all totalitarianisms the clerical is probably the most harmful.

The factions never seem to have been compressed into any sort of seclusion. Relations between the sexes are free and easy and divorce is simple. Large numbers of half-castes have resulted from the occupation of the country by the French military. At the time of the Japanese defeat, the French asked H. M. Sasavang Voog to raise some levies to fight against the invader. He replied, very judiciously, “My people do not know how to flight, they know only how to sing and make love.”

The Laotians believe in Little Vehicle Buddhism. They have no God. For them the Buddha is but the most eminent of men. They hold to the literal interpretation of the Master’s dying words:—“Be your own refuge. Man has no saviour but himself. The reward for right doing is not eternal life, but extinction and freedom from successive reincarnations.” They are averse to taking life. Laotian soldiers who deliberately fired over one another’s heads for fear of taking human life are gradually being taught by their “betters” to aim straight and kill.

U.S. v. U.S.S.R.
The country is torn with civil strife carried on with arms and ammunition provided by the Russian and American Governments. The U.S. bears the entire cost, $40 million a year, of the Royalist army. The Russian back the other side, the Nationalist Pathet Lao.

The whole of Laos, both Pathet Lao and Royalist territories, are ruled by one ruling-class feudal family and this alone makes nonsense of Kennedy’s claim that Pathet Lao must be opposed because they are communists.

The charge is absurd because the ruling-class of the Pathet Lao territory have never shown themselves to have particularly different ideas from their relatives who rule the Royalist territory Pathet Lao are no more communist than the Royalist are democratic. Both sides of the family run the usual pattern of Asiatic feudalistic governments normal for undeveloped areas in that part of the world.

Prince Souphannavong, the Pathet Lao Leader, is half-brother to the Prime Minister of the Royalists. A third brother who lives in Siam acts as elder statesman to both sides. They are more concerned with exploiting their subjects, which they do with the inefficiency usual with that type of administration, than in theoretical and alien theories of communism and democracy Pathet Lao and the Royalists are puppets of Russia and America, respectively.

Laos looms large in power politics because of her strategic importance—long wedge one-third the size of France, separating Vietnam from Siam in the American bloc.

In 1956 Laos and China signed a Treaty of “peace and neutrality” in Peking. In it the Kingdom of Laos declared that no foreign military’ bases or installations are to be allowed on its territory. This was regarded as another failure for American policy in Asia and even a retrogression from the position already established at the time in Laos. For if Laos gets out of the clutches of America and really becomes independent, then it will drive a wedge between the two American bastions of South Vietnam and Thailand.

If, on the other hand, the Chinese controlled Pathet Lao takes over the whole of the country, then Laos becomes a hostile wedge and S.E.A.T.O. (the American controlled South East Asian Treaty Organisation) becomes nullified for then the Chinese bloc will extend to the borders of Thailand which has a large resident Chinese fifth column.

But, apart from her strategic value, Laos is a so far almost untapped vast reservoir of wealth in coal, copper and tin. There are 204,000 sq. kilometres of valuable hardwood forests just waiting to be cut and exported. This must alone be worth fighting for, remembering that the British ruling-class squandered the health and lives of so many soldiers in fighting the Chinese nationalist insurgents for the tin and cash crops of Malaya a few years ago.

The struggle for Laos will bring greater power and wealth to one or other of the two great powers concerned. To the internal ruling-class it. is already bringing wealth in the form of assistance amounting to millions each year. Whichever side wins, because each is the puppet of a capitalist overlord greedy for power and profits, capitalism will come to Laos in the form of mines, plantations of cash crops, and the development of industry. To enable capitalism to thrive there the Laotians will have to be shaken out of their lethargic happy state. This is an essential preliminary to present- day “development and prosperity.” Happy workers contented with their existing standard of living are not satisfactory subjects for capitalism. How can they be induced to speed up and work overtime if they are already content with what they get? No! The wind of change is about to blow hard there.

In place of laughter, song, and making love, must come the tax collector, conscription, wage-slavery, the charge-hand, the foreman and the boss, hard work in the tropical heat, threats of the sack, piece work, bonus systems, overtime and ulcers. But for the budding Laotian ruling-class, there will be stocks and shares, rent, interest and profits.


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